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  • President Donald Trump announced on Friday that he is formally “decertifying” the nuclear deal with Iran under US law. Weirdly, this is not the same thing as quitting the deal — in fact, Trump said in his speech that he plans to stay in it (at least for now).
  • As a candidate for the presidency, Donald Trump agreed with all his Republican colleagues that the Iran nuclear deal that the United States negotiated along with China, Russia, Great Britain, France and Germany was a disaster, a catastrophe, a calamity. But now, the Trump administration is taking the position that it might actually be working out fine:
  • The results from Iran’s parliamentary elections haven’t been released yet, but some triumphant language has accompanied the anticipated tallies, which indicate a surge for Iranian moderates.
  • Iran freed ten U.S. sailors on Wednesday a day after detaining them aboard two U.S. Navy patrol boats in the Gulf, bringing a swift end to an incident that had rattled nerves shortly before the expected implementation of a landmark nuclear accord. Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said it had released the sailors after determining they had entered Iranian territorial waters by mistake. IRGC Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi said earlier the boats had strayed due to a broken navigation system.
  • Only a few days into the new year, the Middle East has already taken a significant turn for the worse. The region's greatest rivalry, between Saudi Arabia and Iran, has become rapidly and significantly more toxic in the past few days, and it could have repercussions across the Middle East. On Saturday, protesters in Tehran attacked the Saudi embassy, ransacking and burning it as Iran ignored or refused Saudi requests to protect the building. Saudi Arabia formally broke off diplomatic relations with Iran on Sunday, on Monday saying it would cut commercial ties and ban Saudi travel to Iran as well. Sudan and Bahrain, both Saudi allies, severed ties as well.
  • Relations between Shiite Iran and its oil-rich Sunni neighbors across the Persian Gulf have never been warm, and the civil wars in Syria and Yemen have fueled mistrust and proxy battles between the two countries for years. But even those conflicts didn't manage to bring about the diplomatic meltdown that occurred this weekend, when Saudi Arabia severed ties with Iran and significantly ramped up tensions between two of the Middle East's most powerful players.
  • The White House expects that Iran will finish the work it needs to trigger implementation of a landmark nuclear deal with world powers in the coming weeks, White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said on Saturday. Rhodes said Iran still had a number of important things to do after having shipped its stockpile of low enriched uranium out of the country.
  • Iran’s covert operations chief Qassem Soleimani is back in Syria and beaming for the cameras according to photos of the selfie-prone Quds Force commander released this week. But it’s not all smiles for the troops in Syria under his command. Iran has now become the ground army fighting to save its embattled ally Bashar al-Assad, while Russia has become his air force. And while two conventional militaries ranged, by land and by air, against a consortium of insurgencies ought to be faring well, in the last month, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have been hemorrhaging casualties. So far, they’ve lost third lieutenants all the way up to generals—and the deaths are starting to pull back the curtain on just whose boots are on the ground in Syria.

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